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Falcons film GIF review: Staying grounded

Follow the breakdown of how the Falcons were able to prevail over their division rivals in an ugly, yet encouraging victory.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

From 2016 to 2019, I produced a GIF review series every week, breaking down the previous Falcons’ game. Each week, I’d post multiple GIFs to analyze the biggest highlights, lowlights, and most fascinating moments from each matchup. The time is now to bring it back right here on The Falcoholic.

For those that didn’t follow the review series on Twitter, I would break down every snap from every Falcons’ game and decide which offensive and defensive plays deserve to be spotlighted. To keep this at an acceptable rate where nobody’s phone or computer breaks down because of so many GIFs on one page, I will assess the top ten most significant or notable offensive and defensive plays from the Falcons’ win over the Panthers.

What better way to start than reviewing one of the greatest plays made inside the Mercedes-Benz Stadium since 2017?

Bijan lights it up

This is one of the most extraordinary touchdowns you will see all season. There are possibly six players in the league that can turn a five-yard loss into an eleven-yard touchdown. Setting him in motion adds a fun wrinkle to this, but the alignment couldn’t have been more unfavorable. On third and five, in the red zone, it’s hard to comprehend how Arthur Smith thought this was a good idea, besides the fact of knowing you are putting the ball in the hands of a special playmaker.

It’s astonishing to watch the eighth overall pick bend to dodge Frankie Luvu running at him at full speed. To follow it up by splitting Vonn Bell and Shaq Thompson makes this a jaw-dropping moment for a player who will likely produce numerous highlight-reel plays this season. The way he sets up going outside to dip inside of Bell, eventually forcing him to collide with Thompson, is brilliant.

Bijan Robinson has the agility of an electrifying scatback and the strength of a bruising power back. With his running style and football intelligence, the sky is the limit for him. Touchdowns like this prove that.

The subtle movement, vision, and burst from Robinson make eight to ten-yard runs like this look routine. His ability to remain patient and change speeds in a flash creates big-play opportunities by allowing holes to develop and using his explosiveness to get to the second level. While it’s another well-blocked play led by the tight ends and McGary, Robinson is able to gain extra yardage with his blistering speed. Turning four to six-yard runs into double-digit gains makes a significant difference, especially when the offense has no drop-back passing game.

Arthur Smith will break out these kind of counter runs when he sees a defense is reeling. Avery Williams broke loose on one last year against Cleveland, which proved to be the running game’s coming out party. It catches the defense off guard with Keith Smith running a counter and Drew Dalman pulling to the backside to make a crucial seal block.

With the entire line blocking right, both blocks are needed to get Robinson loose into the open field. Smith’s fierce lead block on Thompson and Dalman’s intelligent movement to guide the backside defender away is poetry in motion for this play design to be perfectly executed.

Allgeier Brings That Thunder

The benefits of having plenty of versatility in your offense are on full display. With Kyle Pitts able to be a legitimate threat as an outside receiver, there are essentially three tight ends on the field despite the alignment shaping up as 12 personnel. As MyCole Pruitt goes in motion, he ends up providing an overload on the right to help seal the edge for Tyler Allgeier to be isolated against Jaycee Horn. Pitts and Jonnu Smith make solid blocks in giving Allgeier all the space in the world.

Allgeier looks more agile than last year and makes a terrific cut to evade Horn. It’s hard to remember the second-year back forcing a missed tackle last season without his sheer power and determination. A sharp cut and increased agility reveal the work he put in the off-season to evolve as a runner. This was the first of what will be many runs over 15 yards.

It’s not just the power, balance, and vision that makes Allgeier a special running back. The patience to stick with it and find an opening creates an opportunity to turn nothing into something on any carry. As Dalman struggles to seal Shy Tuttle off and Matthew Bergeron misses at the second level, the play remains alive thanks to Allgeier’s skill set.

There is no giving up on runs with him. If the blocking isn’t there, he will do everything possible to stay balanced and keep those powerful legs rumbling toward daylight. That daylight proved to be the end zone to give the Falcons the lead.

After pounding the ball consistently for three quarters, the Falcons finally wore down a stout Carolina front seven. They brought in the sledgehammer to finish them off, with Allgeier running behind Keith Smith. The outstanding combo block by Smith to help Dalman is a prime example of what makes this punishing, no-nonsense ground game so efficient.

They know how to make instinctive decisions in a terrific scheme to break formidable defenses down. Jake Matthews guides Deshawn Williams away to create a lane, while Bergeron seals off Luvu to cap off a stellar fourth quarter from the offense. No wide receivers, no disguises. This is how the coaching staff wants to force defenses into submission.

Pass protection debacle

What should have been a promising start to the Falcons’ first drive of the season ended disastrously. With Mack Hollins added in the off-season and Drake London built to thrive as an outside receiver, the Falcons have two wide receivers to allow Pitts more opportunities to be utilized in the slot. Shifting in motion to line him up against Jeremy Chinn presents a fantastic chance to convert on third down.

Pitts couldn’t have won any cleaner at the top of the route by forcing Chinn to the turf off sheer footwork and feints. Unfortunately, Brian Burns’ get-off and chop proved too overwhelming for Kaleb McGary. The star edge rusher showed tremendous bend coming off the edge to strip Desmond Ridder. It was a sluggish set from McGary, who looked a step behind from the beginning. The strip-sack caused not only a three-and-out but also ruined a terrific chance for Ridder and Pitts to start the season out strong in their first regular season game playing together.

Arthur Smith painfully goes ultra-conservative

The Falcons went two for ten on third down. One of the conversions was Robinson’s superhuman touchdown on what should have been a five-yard loss. The complete lack of trust in Ridder and pass protection became quickly apparent as the game wore on. There was no dropback passing game. London and Pitts were afterthoughts. It was another one of those games where questions must be asked about the thought process behind these play calls to convert on third down.

Pitts and Jonnu Smith warrant criticism for blowing their respective blocking assignments. That said, it’s third and 12. This is time for one of your two superb former top-ten pick pass catchers to make a play. They have to be trusted and put in a position to make that happen.

Ridder rattled

As “efficient” as his final numbers were, there was questionable decision-making and erratic passing from Ridder. No decision was more dangerous than trying to thread the needle to Pitts. While it was promising to see play action used out of the shotgun, the coverage simply didn’t allow any opening for this completion to be possible. Carolina’s linebackers didn’t fall for the ball fake, which took away Ridder’s primary read.

It’s clear that he was pressing and forced a throw that could have easily been intercepted. His eyes are glued to Pitts as Bergeron does a nice job of pulling and picking up Burns. Better pocket movement, awareness, and patience would have led to a positive gain by checking it down to Allgeier or Robinson.

Despite the enormous pressure Carolina created in the first half, the playcalling didn’t do much to aid Ridder. The lack of spacing is alarming when assessing this play design. There isn’t anyone stretching the field. If Ridder can’t get the ball out in three seconds, the play becomes broken. Robinson’s poor blitz pickup forces the second-year quarterback to escape the pocket.

To make an already bad situation worse, he desperately attempts to throw the ball across the field. An uninspiring play call followed by a dreadful blitz pickup leading to a perplexing decision could have ended in a catastrophic interception.

One shining moment through the air

It took three-and-half quarters for Ridder to throw a pass beyond 20 yards. The result couldn’t have gone any better. This is one of Smith’s classic deep play-action concepts using both his top two pass catchers. Instead of running a signature Yankee concept with London running the deep over route, Pitts decides to run more of a deep corner instead of a post. The inside coverage with safety help could have altered those plans.

That didn’t prevent Ridder from connecting with Pitts for a much-needed splash play to inject life into a non-existent passing game. Ridder knew the time was right to get aggressive and trust the star tight end to make a fantastic contested grab. It came to fruition.

Jessie Bates steals the show

It didn’t take long for the star safety to make his mark in Atlanta. After Bryce Young makes his first read to the right, he redirects his eyes toward the middle of the field. With tight man coverage across the field and Young beginning to stare down Hayden Hurst, the timing was perfect for Bates to pounce on a rookie mistake.

Playing two-high can provide more freedom for safeties to take chances and capitalize on quarterbacks staring down their intended target. Bates set the tone with his first interception by reading Young’s eyes and jumping right in front of Hurst to put the Falcons in excellent field position.

Bates capitalized on a common young quarterback mistake once again. Young stared down his intended target across the middle of the field even worse on this interception. Bates is lining up as a deep-lying safety in more of a robber look, which was common for him in Cincinnati, as Vonn Bell would play more near the box. Bates has outstanding instincts and range to flourish in coverage, covering acres of space on the back end. It didn’t take much for him to intercept the first overall pick for the second time.

Run defense woes

Besides an anemic four-man pass rush, the most concerning aspect for the defense coming out of the opening weekend was how they allowed Carolina to pick up consistent chunk plays on the ground. On too many occasions, gaps were opening up up front, and players couldn’t disengage from blocks.

To make matters worse, the linebackers found themselves out of position too often. Troy Andersen had difficulty maintaining gap control, while edge defenders like Bud Dupree failed to make stops when required to prevent big runs from occurring.

Carolina used duo to great success on multiple big runs. They were able to double Grady Jarrett and Daniel Onyemata in creating lanes for Miles Sanders or, in this instance, Chuba Hubbard. Frank Reich made it a point of emphasis to test Atlanta’s untested linebacker tandem of Anderson and Kaden Elliss. Neither player has had a full year of starting experience, which was concerning going into the season. They both endured their share of getting blocked out of runs, leading to chunk gains for the Panthers.

What also contributed to the defense allowing nearly five yards per carry was the rotational players being completely overwhelmed. Zach Harrison, Ta’Quon Graham, and Albert Huggins were frequently pushed around at the point of attack. This run particularly stood out for how poor Graham’s technique is and Harrison’s lack of gap discipline.

No defense can allow that much space for a running back. Hubbard goes untouched for more than ten yards, which is unacceptable. Nielsen has to be concerned about his defensive line rotation being overpowered by an average-at-best offensive line. Elliss’ failed attempt at shooting through the B-gap capped off a brutal play for the Falcons.

Run defense response

The defense did have some fine moments against the run, none greater than the fourth down stop on the first drive. For all the personnel changes, a few things remain certain with the Falcons. Grady Jarrett is going to wreck running plays. His blistering first step slanting into the a-gap forces Hubbard to hesitate.

In a short-yardage situation, the last thing a running back wants to do is be tentative with his decision-making. Hubbard has no choice after Jarrett’s penetration. From there, the defense pounced on Hubbard, led by Bud Dupree and Bates. It was a massive win for Nielsen’s defense in getting a strong push up front and having veteran players stay disciplined to finish their impressive work.

Despite his early struggles, Andersen did play well in the second half. He had several flashes where his impressive athleticism shined. The decisiveness to beat the interior blocks and burst into the backfield for a tackle for a loss is the type of play you want to see from a linebacker with his attributes. Jarrett’s ability to fight through multiple blocks, along with Calais Campbell overpowering Taylor Moton with sheer ferocity, makes this one of the standout defensive plays. This is how a defense only allows three points in the second half.

Third down success

Carolina converted five out of 14 third downs. They struggled mightily in the second half, having to punt three times after two consecutive drives ended in turnovers. The Falcons were outstanding in coverage all game long in a favorable matchup. A.J. Terrell didn’t break much of a sweat when isolated against Terrace Marshall in man coverage. The manner in which the four-man rush forced Young into an inaccurate throw was most notable.

After not generating any semblance of pressure in the first half, the front four started to rattle Young as the game wore on. This was one of the few plays Campbell lined up on the interior. Despite primarily lining up at the left edge position, the stellar defensive lineman can cause serious havoc on the interior with his length and power. It was evident by combining with Jarrett to collapse the pocket and help produce a third down stop.

Nielsen’s blitz magic

One of the Saints’ main advantages over teams in the past five years has been how they generate pressure. Nielsen played an instrumental role in applying these aggressive looks with both linebackers in front of the center. Instead of a standard double a-gap blitz, he uses twists from multiple angles to disrupt the quarterback.

Young knows he has to stand tall in the pocket with five rushers flying around. If he doesn’t get the ball out, he has no choice but to take a sack. Lorenzo Carter ends up being the beneficiary of this well-designed blitz by splitting multiple blockers to seal the win.

As satisfying as the previous sack was, the first sack of the game was even more impressive. It was needed with Adam Thielen roaming free on a drag route. They uniquely sent five rushers, with Andersen and Tre Flowers blitzing. The explosiveness that Andersen brings makes the difference by forcing Hubbard and Bradley Bozeman to block him.

That leaves a looping Dupree with a free shot on Young. Andersen ends up earning half of the sack for his excellent work, along with Jarrett’s relentless pursuit. A tremendous design from Nielsen leads to perfect execution for a game-changing third-down sack that started a dominant fourth quarter for the Falcons.